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Myriad Musings of an Urban Nomad
by Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar Bookmark and Share

Into the Migrant City by Nabina Das,
Witers Workshop (Kolkata), 2013,
ISBN 978-93-5045-057-4, Rs.200/-

Into the Migrant City is a debut anthology of Nabina Das, a nomad poet with no home and hearth at a fixed place. A wonderful collection of 55 poems spread across three sections- Tracks to the Inner City, Beaten Shape and the concluding section Work in Progress, the anthology is ‘a true flaneur in an extended sense’ with a peephole into the female psyche, a wandering and wondrous travail from ‘border to border and city to city’ as she herself reveals in the book. Widely traveled and well read, Nabina Das is one of the strongest feminine voices of contemporary times. A true lover, of humanity, animals, beautiful places of the world and possessive of passion for tours; she is gifted with a universal outlook. 

With a wide range of topics and themes tackled with ease, Into the Migrant City is a literary evolution of Nabina Das into a conscious poetess with three phenomenal phases of feminine consciousness that have shaped and refined her poetic sensibility well manifested through her poetic writings of high excellence. The first section entitled as Tracks to the Inner City consists of poems dealing with outward realities of life that have made her explore deep into her own inner world.

As a poetic diarist, she records the experiences and feelings, realization and observations made while traveling far and wide. Her poetic self moulds the beautiful, bitter, wrenching feelings and strong emotions into pearls of poetry. She takes us, readers on an inner and outer journey of our mind and heart to explore the resultants of strong emotions she seems to have deposited in her female consciousness. She is a migrant with’ grit and grime spirit and rhyme too . This is how she seems to be describing herself in the titular poem’ Into the migrant city’ replete with autobiographical elements.

Though she calls herself ‘an urban nomad’, yet she recalls the root of her family trailing to East Pakistan and becomes nostalgic and sad at heart recalling the mass devastation at the time of migrations –

They have dreams of where the dead speak aloud
They now laud bringing water and history in saved brass jars
From a Dera Ghazi Khan of lonely broken doors left ajar

- (Dera Ghazi Khan, 1925)

Her poetry is a beautiful tapestry of thoughts where she drips some reflective drops of her concerns and anxieties towards the plight, outside and inside –

We were inside
a night where
owls sharpened our
verbs of anxiety
skunks clawed at rising
codas of breaths
- ( After the Show )

The poet is a modern nomad. She travels far and wide and broadens the horizon of her experience, enhancing overall awareness. Migrations at the time of partitions of the country seem to have wounded her soul and the pain she feels as such reminds of the troubled times spent by the people affected by the devastations. She gives a heart wrenching description of the ‘baby face’

'snuggled with the leather
of the dappled beast
that bleated with heat
of a summer dumped
from the rooftop
of a refugee colony
where milk was gold. -
(Sonepat, 1980)

She is a poetess with milk of human kindness. Her love for the animals and birds is pervasive throughout her poetry. The twittering soul, caged in her flutters and poetry gets wings, and she soars aloft in the vast firmament of life. Her love for birds, animals and insects is evident from her poems. ‘Crow’, ‘owl’, ’hens’, ‘china’, ‘sparrows’, ’ducks’, ’pigeon’, ‘yak’, ‘fish’, ‘rooster’ are some examples frequently used in the poems. She is pained to see the cold attitude of the people towards the mute living beings like sea gulls-

Nagged by chilly winds we
spot darkness under seagulls’
wings. Hey are now still, stoned
with the torpor of fading siren chimes.
(The sea near Battery Park, New York)

The word-pictures she draws in her poetry evoke feelings of disgusts at the bloodshed stooped to in contemporary times. Her poem ‘Redness’ is a metaphorical expression of her take on with such sinister acts-

blood squirting from slashed-up necks
headless chickens scattered in an ungainly race
backwards, forward, again back.

And hence she is not able to restrain herself from making caustic remarks on their attitude as they have lost their ‘ tongues’, ‘attitude piled under the redness of shame/peripheral to storms, deaths, news of constant ruse.’ With the realization of this fact, she remarks intellectually-

‘a colour doesn’t need a name’.

She is a conscious poet of tours and travels. She harbors in her heart ‘a secret wish’ to ‘find home’ for herself. Measuring length and breadth of the world is not the sole objective of the subjective self and this realization is evident in her poems. With the fulfillment of what she wants to enjoy in the world, she finally intends to get back to her own destination. At first she wants ‘to walk, stare at the local train’s segmented grace, the river mist. However, her sole desire is to find a restive place – home. Hence, she is ‘dreaming the shadow of a home.’ She expresses-

I also want to twist all my wishes, before they wriggle out
Flutter, turn into irreverent sparrows on green iron rails
Sometimes, I want to walk from Camden to find home.
(Walking home from Camden)

The poet’s sense of historical perspective on major phenomena in the world is outstandingly reflected with profuse emotions. The gory chapters of history traumatize the poet to such an extent that she comes up with beautiful poems to purge her emotions through the process of catharsis. Some poems reveal this true sense of hers. A very touching description of a man from ‘rag wearing villages of Bengal’ is a testimony to this fact-

….. he saw
The inside of his thigh a Martian
Blotch. A bullet. A red-hot cave of
History lessons the land still hides.

In another poem ‘Sem(a)ntics’ she defines history in a romantic way through a beautiful metaphor –

History is
A lover never loved or known.

Further, she flutters the wings of her consciousness and soars aloft. We can find wonderful expression of her ecstatic soul here-

‘a cloud rising from my hair, my chest, my histories and lovely words’

Some of her poems deal with the themes of love, lust and desire that arrest our attention with the appealing sensuousness presented through scintillating metaphors and imagery. Consummation of love, separation in love, lovemaking , dumping, divine love,, romantic – all aspects of love have been beautifully portrayed in her poems but in a different way. She makes a caustic remark at one place-

love and kingdom is a game.

In her poems, she also makes caustic remarks at the lasciviousness of men who keep staring at girls’ or women’s ‘bulbous yet soft’ ‘orbs held firm by tight green bodices’ through realistic imagery. She further remarks-

………… Nature still provides an old widow
Things of seamless lust, she blurted almost rakishly

- (Notes to Her Lover; Undated)

She very realistically portrays ‘time of lust’-

We kiss in a living shadow
Away from the dead
Body lying gently
In the front yard. -
(Death and Else)

However, we find in her poetry a fantastic glorification of divine love that she professes to her beloved compared as Krishna-

The blue god was my lover
Till I turned thirteen
I discovered then men
Made a goddess of me. -
(Notes to Her Lover; Undated)

Her poetry is a beacon of light, love, hope, faith, revolt, dreams, peace. Paying tribute to Sukanta Bhattacharya, a great poet known for his ‘tone of rebellion and social change’, she expresses her fondness of his poetry as his poetry is ‘full of seeds that planted hope, to never die or with’ and she regards poetrya mail runner for our faith to brim over’.

She is a socio-conscious poet. Her poetry is a strong protest against social injustice and poverty that have gripped the poor sections of our society. Social realism finds an excellent articulation with heart wrenching portraiture of their plight that gets intensified and artistically heightened with vivid rib tickling imagery. Her word pictures present society as it is.

When wars are done
When hunger searches for a shelter called arms.
It’s boot sounds
Tectonic in core
Drawing lines on maps as they shudder and split.

Metaphoric expressions of sensuousness and sensuality add evocative power to her poetry. The intense and passionate passages of her life open up with great vivacity in her poetry, of ‘lust words ’like ‘a scythe around the neck of our desires’. Like Kamala Das, she reveals with no inhibition’ the silken route to course through our deposited nights’. With ‘dusks and sweats of shredded loves’, she goes on-

Oh these hands still go mining
Into my woman-
Sweet jelly and warm on finger
Once up on my coffee breats
They mottle, oh so fast.

A naked bird-head in
A fist holding a fork.
Drop it-lick those fingers

- (Thirteen Ways of Looking at Your Hands)

Her poetry is soaked in Indianness- Indian ethos and values. Despite being nomadic in life styles, she makes oft-occurring references to rites and rituals, spirituality and other cultural aspects of life in our country. Her socio-cultural awareness is well reflected in her poems dealing with homage for forefathers, the ancestors or theme of salvation, or with Buddhists’ ways of life, or delineating the astounding natural beauty of the rural landscape. She innocently and openly remarks-

ancestors they say hover disguised as birds and animals- on the lawn, on garden boughs. - (Finding Foremothers)

Her keen observation of the countryside ways of life, beliefs can be observed in the following lines that present the rural landscape-

The sweetened tomato chutney on
my banana-leaf plate seeping away like blood
dark red blood of aunts, wives
bho cooked and cleaned, sucked
blood from cuts, bore kids and bled till
they stopped, bled in their hearts when widowed and denied.

- (Finding Foremothers)

In her poetry we also find the preponderance of spiritual elements. She not only speaks for women’s freedom but also talks about salvation of soul, and over all development of ‘Buddha’s children’. She believes in ‘Streams are known to be clean’, and ‘sparkling source of unanimity’. She has unflinching faith in the eternal source of energy-

I am connected to a stream
Originating from a spring of ubiquitous freedom
It was a purifying rite
To wrap streams around our bodies
Whether in birth or death:
Moksha either way.
(Releasing Rites by Water)

Nabina Das’s poems as Into the Migrant City, are droplets of thoughts, flowing subtly, on myriads of issues of life and the world around- the life she has lived and the world she is living in. Candid expression, honest confession, searing satire, multitudes of views on life, philosophy, social attitude, migration, basics of roots, sympathy for the poor, love for the animal world and protests against the social set- ups, intense cerebration over the human existence are the hallmarks of her poetry. Like a true feminist she raises some issues, national and international, of feminism, some issues of serious concern. Some of her poems are a veiled protest.

Worth reading for the readers with cosmopolitan outlook and loving heart!

(An abridged version of this review was published in Asian Signature, Second Volume, 2015)

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